I’m not sure that the toxic consequences of nuclear power are necessarily more persistent than coal. Naturally, you have to go along with me on a couple of caveats to get to that conclusion. Nuclear materials can be very hazardous - I don’t think anything is more toxic than plutonium, and spraying the stuff over the countryside is a lot more persistently toxic than the worst that coal tailings can do. The problem is that coal mining produces a lot more tailings, and there aren’t any alternatives to spreading them out on open land and letting them leak into the ground water. The total amount of waste generated by nuclear power is a whole lot smaller and a lot easier to control, even in accidents.
Even in the case of Chernobyl, although I’ll admit not all the data is in yet, I don’t think the consequences are as persistent as the big messes all over the Ukraine caused by a century of very dirty coal mining. The former USSR is an environmental disaster, but I don’t think Chernobyl is a very significant cause by itself. Certainly background radiation isn’t much higher in the Ukraine today that it was before. Water supplies aren’t any less safe these days either as I understand it (although they were such a mess before that it might be hard to tell.) The Ukraine still exports milk, a product that tends to concentrate toxins, without other countries complaining.
Compare this to Iraq, where depleted uranium was spread all over the coutryside, and where, unlike in the Ukraine, cancer rates have gone through the roof. Even the worst nuclear accident in history has contained the mess reasonably well compared to the kinds of scenarios being trotted out by the anti-nuclear movement.
As for the NIMBY phenomena, I find it less often in the environmental movement than among suburban Americans in general. I consider myself at least mildly environmentalist, in the sense that man obviously has the power to ruin the world around him without realy trying, and that I think that would be a really bad idea. I’m in favour, in general, of nuclear power and, in some cases, large hydroelectric power. I have some conditions - like having state-owned utilites instead of irresponsible private companies providing power, and a well established regulatory system, but I’m not against that kind of generation in principle. I agree, if you take coal and natural gas out of the picture, there aren’t a lot of sources left besides nukes and hydro. Wind power can be cost effective, as Denmark has shown in recent years, but only in some places and some of the time. Solar will probably never take off in a big way. Ocean thermal and geothermal power seem pretty speculative at this point. And although biomass power is great and it’s cheap, it’s limited by the quantity of cheap biomass. Your excrement doesn’t contain enough energy to power your computer.
At least some environmentalists - quite a few of the quieter ones in my experience - do understand this. On the other hand, try to get an SUV-driving, white picket fenced, day-trading suburbanite to pay attention to where his power is coming from and all you get are blank stares. As long as the ugly factories and power plants aren’t visible from his morning commute, he doesn’t much care about consequences.
Another rant no one needs I guess.
"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.